HARARE – On December 14 last year, the minister of Environment teamed up with officials from parastatals in his ministry and political activists to clean the perennially dirty Mbare Musika terminus.
There is no doubt that such a move was well-intended and meant to be beneficial to all residents and travellers who throng the popular bus terminus.
Minister Francis Nhema is a passionate environmentalist who has remained steadfast, traversing the breath and length of the country urging people to protect and conserve our natural resources.
The Mbare Musika clean-up exercise exposed serious shortcomings of the numerous campaigns that have been carried out by his ministry.
This particular one seemed nothing more than a publicity stunt.
It was of no value and obviously misdirected.
The clean-up exercise was premised on wrong foundations and philosophy; it defied all known strategies on the implementation of any form of campaign that seeks to elicit popular participation and appreciation.
The authoritarian import in the form of some of the statements by political activists in the area clearly went against the spirit of popular participation.
It was clear that all residents were going to be forced to clean the area every Sunday without really appreciating the intrinsic need for a clean environment.
From a strategic point of view, the feasibility of political party and ideological mass mobilisation method in implementing such a campaign is next to nothing especially in the age of multiparty democracy coupled with the stark reality that the party which won all the available political seats in the area was relegated to the role of spectator.
This is recipe for failure.
What seems prudent in issues of the environment is the need for genuine empowerment in terms of knowledge acquisition and the provision of alternatives.
Unless a new bus terminus and viable market stalls that can rival Mbare Musika are developed then people will continue to flock to the place and it will always be littered.
As people continue to see the litter, they will continue to live with it and life becomes normal.
Those who come to clean the place once a year putting on masks to protect themselves from the stinking smell will appear ridiculous in the eyes of those who eat, wine, dine and conduct business in the area.
They will not be moved and all those supposedly precious messages will fall on deaf ears.
Experience has actually shown that people live today rather than yesterday or tomorrow.
If they are to be told that there will be outbreaks of water-borne diseases due to the garbage, they will only pay attention if there is a real catastrophe.
The most pressing issue for them is to eke out a living with environmental issues becoming secondary.
They will only pay attention to environmental issues if they threaten their source of sustenance.
It is not by accident or design that Mbare Musika is perpetually unclean.
Journalists in both electronic and print media have actually found it wise not to continue to report on garbage accumulation at Mbare Musika.
Their reason is simple, they understand that uncleanliness in the area is a function of much larger processes than the City of Harare and is certainly not a fact that the people in the area are unaware of it.
To suppose that most people in Mbare want the area to be always dirty is to be myopic, to say the least.
One really needs to clearly understand why garbage continues to pile perennially before staging clean-up dramas and urging people to participate in fruitless clean-up exercises.
Such self-serving and elitist approaches were tried in the 1970’s in Nigeria in an exercise called “Operation Keep Lagos Clean”.
The campaign failed dismally because planners never fully appreciated why Lagos was perpetually unclean.
As long as the economic fundamentals are not sorted out, environmental issues will always be secondary in the Third World. – Wellington Gadzikwa